Crane #217 and her mate, #211
Photo Sara Zimorski

Citizen Tip Leads to Closure of Whooping Crane Shooting in Indiana
USFWS News Release, April 14, 2011

Closure comes in the case of matriarch whooping crane shooting because of a citizen tip. Wade Bennett of Cayuga, Ind. pled guilty and was sentenced on March 30, 2011, for his involvement in the shooting of a whooping crane in Vermillion County, Indiana. Bennett and a juvenile were charged and sentenced in Indiana State Court, in Vermillion County, Indiana. Bennett and the juvenile received minimal probation, fines and fees for their involvement in the shooting of the crane. Voluntary information from a local citizen was instrumental in closing this case.

Wildlife law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources investigated the shooting of the crane. The crane, last observed alive by an International Crane Foundation (ICF) staff member on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009, was found dead by an ICF volunteer found on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, in rural Vermillion County, Ind.

The crane, referred to as the monarch of the reintroduction program, was identified by a leg band, and determined to be the seven-year old mother of “Wild-1,” the only whooping crane chick, at that time, to successfully hatch (in 2006) and migrate from captivity.

In early spring 2010, a citizen came forward with information concerning the shooting of the crane. The citizen’s information was valuable to investigators during subsequent interviews of Bennett and the juvenile. Both Bennett and the juvenile confessed to their involvement in the shooting of the whooping crane.

Observations reported by the public play a key role in solving wildlife crime, according to USFWS Special Agent Buddy Shapp. “People who live in an area notice details that can tell us a lot,” Shapp said. “They sometimes see something or hear something that strikes them as unusual but not necessarily criminal. People might not realize that their observation is significant.”

Whooping cranes in the wild already face monumental challenges — mortality due to predators and disease, and the threat of continued habitat loss. “The senseless killing of a whooping crane by a human hand is sad, butinexcusable and entirely preventable,” notes John French, a member of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team.
“With fewer than 500 of these birds on Earth, every bird is important to keeping this species from extinction and this bird was extremely valuable to the recovery program. This unnecessary killing set the program back significantly, but fortunately there are many citizens across country that continue to champion the whooping crane cause and can help prevent this from happening again,” said French.

“Our investigators coordinate closely with the judicial system in an effort to secure the most appropriate penalties for the commission of crimes against wildlife and natural resources,” noted USFWS Midwest Region Assistant Special Agent in Charge Warren Buhl.

In addition to the Endangered Species Act, whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. More about USFWS wildlife conservation efforts.